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CIA Director Leon E. Panetta Announces Stronger Language Requirements for Promotion

January 29, 2010

Director Leon E. Panetta has announced a new policy that raises language requirements for promotion to the Agency's top ranks—the Senior Intelligence Service. In a note to the CIA workforce, Panetta said, “I expect our SIS officers to lead the way in strengthening this critical expertise.”

While many senior Agency officers have tested proficient in a foreign language over the course of their careers, some have not kept their skills current. Under the new policy, promotions to SIS for most analysts and operations officers will be contingent on demonstrating foreign language competency. If an officer is promoted to SIS and does not meet the foreign language requirement within one year, he or she will return to their previous, lower grade. This is a powerful incentive to maintain and improve skills critical to the Agency's global mission. Languages play a key role in the CIA's work at all career levels.

“The stricter requirement for SIS promotion,” said Panetta, “is meant to ensure that leadership on this vital initiative comes from the executive level. With an unwavering commitment from SIS officers—to both lead by example and to support language proficiency at all levels—we will reach not only our language goals, but our ultimate objective: an Agency that is better positioned to protect our nation in the years ahead.”

This announcement advances the Director's aggressive five-year initiative, launched last May, to strengthen the Agency’s foreign language capabilities. “Deep expertise in foreign languages is fundamental to CIA’s success,” he said. “Whether an officer is conducting a meeting in a foreign capital, analyzing plans of a foreign government, or translating a foreign broadcast, language capability is critical to every aspect of our mission.”

The main goals of the five-year initiative—jump-started with funding from Congress—are to:

  • Double the number of analysts and collectors who are proficient in a foreign language;
  • Expand the number of officers proficient in mission-critical languages such as Arabic, Pushto, and Urdu;
  • Transform how the CIA conducts language training; and
  • Make language skills an even more important factor in Agency hiring.

The Agency has made major progress already:

  • The majority of National Clandestine Service officers in language training are studying mission-critical languages.
  • Fifty percent of the most recent graduates of the NCS training program immediately entered language training.
  • The Directorate of Intelligence, too, will now send some of its new hires directly to language training.
  • New distance-learning tools—a valuable asset for a global workforce—are being deployed.
  • In Fiscal Year 2009, the number of Agency officers with foreign language proficiency rose by nine percent, an increase that can be attributed in part to the CIA’s success in recruiting new officers with language skills.

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Posted: Jan 29, 2010 10:31 AM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 01:15 PM